With the federal open enrollment period coming to a close this Friday, December 15, we still don’t know what the next year (or even the next month) will bring for health care, even as we see each and every day what coverage means for families all across the United States. Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, our country has made tremendous strides in health coverage. While this past year has challenged us, we have come together like never before to help ensure all communities have access to the care they need.
|The enrollment assisters at Health Care For All in Massachusetts stand together for a photo. Left to Right: Carlos Solis, Denise Moran, Hannah Frigand, Elizabeth Greene and Giselle Hernandez. Daniel Frost/for COMMUNITY CATALYST (All Rights Reserved)
This weekend, I attended a health care coverage enrollment event held by one of our partner organizations, Health Care For All, in Brockton, Massachusetts. As snow began to cover the grass early Saturday morning, we began setting up a modest operation in the basement of a church off a main road in Brockton, a diverse city south of Boston that is home to a large new American community.
As we unloaded stack after stack of forms and paperwork – a physical representation of the complexity of our health system began to form – causing the plastic tables to warp in the center. Through the basement windows, we began to see people in their cars waiting outside for the event to start, their cars coated like alabaster in the freshly minted snow.
While we encountered some difficulty (we had to move our location to the family center next door because the church’s Wi-Fi could not support all of our devices), we were still able to connect almost a hundred people to health care coverage. Many of the people we connected to coverage were enrolling for the first time in their lives, while others were reenrolling after churning out of the system due to changes in income, employment, or some other life-changing event.
|Outreach Specialist, Deolinda Daveiga (right), stands with Shara Jamatia (left), an employee of the Family Center in Brockton, MA. Daniel Frost/for COMMUNITY CATALYST (All Rights Reserved)|
It made me reflect on the importance of our advocacy efforts over the last year, but furthermore, the critical role that community navigators play in getting historically oppressed and disempowered communities enrolled in health care coverage – especially during a time that is so traumatic and tumultuous for immigrant families. Deolinda Daveiga (pictured above) spent weeks visiting organizations and churches in the Brockton community prior to the event, talking to people in languages that put them at ease, and helping them understand that coverage was more affordable than they may have imagined. She also distributed fliers at local grocery stores and went on local radio talk shows to encourage folks of all backgrounds to come to the health care event.
|Pictured: Members of the staff at The Family Center at Community Connections of Brockton. Daniel Frost/for COMMUNITY CATALYST (All Rights Reserved)|
Health Care For All also launched a targeted media campaign, placing linguistically and culturally appropriate TV ads on Spanish-speaking stations to cut through the noise and confusion, and invite people to attend the enrollment session.
I also had the pleasure of meeting the staff at The Family Center at Community Connections of Brockton, a place that serves as a vital support for the community of Brockton. Hosting the event at a place that residents had grown to know and trust certainly helped put people at ease upon entry to the event. The staff brought tremendous energy and often joined families that they knew when attendees were meeting with the enrollment assisters.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration drastically cut funding for community outreach similar to what Deolinda and the staff at Health Care For All provide, claiming it was ineffective in getting people covered. After attending this event, I could not help but see how blatantly racist this move was.
|A group of kids and their mother wait to get enrollment assistance at last Saturday’s event in Brockton, MA. Daniel Frost/for COMMUNITY CATALYST (All Rights Reserved)|
Enrollment assisters often speak multiple languages and have deep roots in communities of color and mixed-status communities. Massively rolling back funding for navigators leaves communities of color and immigrant communities without a paddle when applying for health coverage. The administration’s anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric can even result in disenrollment from health care programs. With less navigator and advertising funding, the coverage gap between white communities and communities of color will likely widen.
|Pictured: A man meets with an enrollment assister. Daniel Frost/for COMMUNITY CATALYST (All Rights Reserved)
In many states, the deadline to enroll in health care coverage is December 15 – just days away – in previous years the deadline was in late-January. Enrollment assisters have worked against many odds this enrollment season, receiving less help than ever from the federal government and combatting growing confusion after multiple attempts by federal policymakers to gut Medicaid and repeal the Affordable Care Act.
As people departed the event, many left with health and dental coverage in place for the coming year, and everyone left with the business card of an enrollment assister who spoke their language, knew their story, and who they could contact at any time with questions. They also left, hopefully, with additional peace of mind, knowing that they had one more thing to be thankful for this holiday season and they had someone in their corner helping them navigate our complicated health system.
We need to help fill the gap that the Trump administration has created by urging people to go to healthcare.gov to sign up for coverage. To get help in your own language by a trained enrollment assister, visit http://younginvincibles.org/open-enrollment/.
This holiday season, help connect people to health coverage and be a part of giving your friends and family peace of mind.